What does the future hold for our shopping behaviour?

Shopping. It’s one of my favourite pastimes, and one of my favourite talking points too. Amidst all these virus stories, a (superficial) chat about shopping is exactly what I need to lift my spirits. But even then there is no escaping the C word. Because the virus is also having a huge impact on our shopping behaviour. Not just because of the functional restrictions, but also because of all those emotions raging within us – ranging from boredom to panic. Even my backbone feels less sturdy than usual.

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In my own surroundings I notice that some are shopping more fanatically than ever. Others are not shopping more or less, but differently. I, for instance, now drop into the corner coffee shop at least three times a week for a shot of caffeine and a friendly smile – something I used to do only once every six months or so.

In view of my own experiences, I was curious to see how our shopping behaviour has changed compared to the pre-pandemic era. Within our online research community, we put out this question in a short survey. This is what we learned:

There is less impulse buying because people are searching online for specific products rather than browsing at random. As for a physical visit to the shops, that has become a kind of Living Stratego where the mission is to avoid other shoppers and make your escape as quickly as possible.

People are making more deliberate choices. In times like these you want to show yourself to your best advantage. And lots of things may now be beyond our control, but we can still make our own shopping choices.

More ‘guilty pleasure’ products are being consumed. A drink or snack is a great way to mark the transition from work to family; and, as I said: we are indulging ourselves more.

Is online here to stay or will the human touch prevail?

My crystal ball never saw Corona coming and my current picture of the future is as hazy as ever. So we must make do with a few scenarios. First of all: will e-commerce finally deliver that killer punch or will local shopping make a comeback?

Some may say: Long live the local shops! The lockdown is making us reconnect with our neighbours and appreciate them more, discover new spots in our own area because we are staying closer to home, and support our local retail heroes who are doing their best to raise their profile and survive.

Others may counter: Long live online shopping! Whereas online shopping was once perceived as unnecessary and unhandy, we now see the advantages and all our fears and reservations have been swept away. Carrying heavy bags of groceries is a thing of the past. Opening hours are simple to remember: 24/7! And the quality of the produce is every bit as good.

Will we return to our old product routines or continue to embrace our new habits?

Scenario 1: Back to ‘normal’ in no time. As soon as our normal routine returns, our old habits will follow suit. Habits are situation-driven. And the current situation is different, so our habits are too. But what will happen when we are no longer cooped up in our homes all day and can simply pop into the supermarket on our way home from work? Then it’s good-bye elaborate home-cooking, hello convenience solutions.

Scenario 2: the old normal will never return. The new situation, insofar as we can see now, will persist for long enough to make us break with old patterns and let new routines take root. Our subscription to entertainment services, the vitamin supplements, the magazine for our leisurely bath after work. Will we ever be able to do without them again?

Customers regularly ask me whether this is a good time for shopper research. My answer: our current behaviour is not normal, so don’t ask normal questions. Instead, prepare for the future by keeping track of how consumer behaviour develops in the coming months. Because both of the above scenarios can become reality and both are full of opportunities and threats. Make sure your brand has its answer ready.

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